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Something Old

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Our “Real” Wedding: 21 June 2003

Cole and I will celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary this summer. We used that as an excuse to stay at a really nice resort this weekend while in Tucson to attend the wedding of one of Cole’s best friends. (In fact, the friend was herself Cole’s “best man”–and pregnant with her younger daughter–at our wedding.)

I had told myself I wasn’t going to do any work while here on our “second honeymoon” but then I decided I would use the opportunity to tell the LesFams all about our weddings.

We both have a great deal of ambivalence about marriage. Nevertheless, an imperfect world requires a tangled web of compromises. So Cole and I–while not altogether believing that legal marriage is a moral institution–have been married twice (so far).

Without further ado, here is an archival blog post describing the second of our two (and counting) weddings–the legal, Canadian one, circa 2006:

About the Legal Wedding

On the Friday after our arrival in Vancouver, Cole trotted off to her conference and I headed to the Hall of Records (or something official like that) to get us a marriage license. Nat and I slogged uphill through pouring rain, which I oddly enjoyed, though I had to get a rain cover for the stroller the next day, as Nat got soaked, in spite of her hooded raincoat.

I finally found the proper office and waited a short time before it was my turn. I took the plastic bag containing every official piece of identification belonging to our family (Cole’s, Nat’s and my birth certificates, Cole’s, Nat’s and my passports, our adoption decree–it was all in there for the immigration official–which is another story) and dumped it onto the desk in front of me.

The woman helping me picked up my passport, jotted the info down, picked up Cole’s passport and said “this is your fiancee?” at which point, I fully expected her to throw me out, insisting that I of course, couldn’t have a marriage license. But she didn’t do that. She jotted down Cole’s information, asked me a few questions, took my credit card and charged it ($100 Canadian, ya’ll! Why did I not check that part out? I didn’t have enough cash and the credit card machine was on the fritz!), fortunately, it ran through. She then handed me a marriage license.

I was completely, for lack of better terms: Freaked. Out.

I couldn’t reach anyone on the phone for about three hours, but finally got Nancy to say “I have a marriage license! A license! For marriage! From a government official who didn’t kick me out of her office!” It felt really strange, but exciting.

Cole and I rejoined that evening and we had a lovely dinner with one of her colleagues (who has a child about Nat’s age also adopted from Chicago) on a rotating 30th floor restaurant. But when I tried to tell Cole how exciting it was to get a marriage license, she kept saying “we’re already married.” And shrugging it off.

Oh fine, never mind, I figured. She wasn’t in that government office expecting to be thrown out and being treated really kindly instead. So she didn’t get my point.

Sunday morning, Cole had to go down and ask the hotel folks for a late checkout, since the marriage commisioner was coming at 3 pm to marry us in our room after Nat’s nap. So she went down to the front desk while I picked up bits of dry cereal from the floor where Nat had cast them about while watching teletubies and trying to avoid her comb-wielding mama.

A few minutes later, Cole walked through the door again, looking distressed. As soon as she saw me, she burst into tears and ran into my arms. I have not seen her so seemingly upset since her mother was rushed to the emergency room in an ambulance.

“What did they say to you!?” I asked.

“They told me that it was no problem at all, no extra fee, under the circumstances, and to get married in peace!” she bawled into my shoulder.

Crying through the Legal Wedding

Crying through the Legal Wedding

And that was that. Cole insisted on buying me flowers and we both cried through the whole darn “do you take…?” “will you promise to…?” “lawfully wedded spouses” thing, while Uncle Davis took photos and Uncle Wayne held Nat.

Yes, we were already married before. That’s definitely true. But what we didn’t think about was how it would feel to have our relationship treated with kindness and even congratulations rather than with nastiness or grudging tolerance. Cole said that when the folks at the hotel were so nice to her, it made her realize how mean so many people so often are. We forget the shadow we usually travel under–whether checking into hotels or eating a meal in an unfamiliar town or stopping for gas on the road. We are always looking over our shoulders, speaking in slightly lowered voices, speculating about whether the waiter knows we’re a family or not (and if not, how he might behave if he did). We forget that it should be perfectly reasonable for a government official to give us what we apply for, within our rights as law-abiding citizens.

Since the wedding and returning home, I’ve had this new feeling about telling people I’m married. I’ve been telling people I’m married ever since our “real” wedding 4 years ago. But now, I have this strange feeling of coherence that I didn’t even know was missing before. I can say “I’m married” and have it mean exactly what my listener thinks it means. It means the exact same thing “married” means when any other married person says it. It’s odd because I never knew I felt “off” using the term before. I know that people would often ask a thousand follow-up questions when I told them my “husband” was not a man. And while I had no problem telling them, I felt (I now realize) a little like I’d been misleading them by using the term. But now it’s just “married.” Done. Whether my home state (or practically any state in the U.S.) acknowledges it or not, it’s legal fact, whatever gender my spouse.

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  1. This is probably the same sort of comment I left on the original post, which I remember reading with such joy at the time: my favorite photo from our civil union (which we held on the 5th anniversary of our “real” wedding) was the one of Politica writing the check at the clerk’s office. I just couldn’t believe that we were there, getting treated so kindly by people in the government!

    I do love the happy smiles you two lovebirds have in both your photos here. Happy anniversary!

  2. I still struggle to call Gabriella my wife after almost 19 years together and after 12 years of federally unrecognized marriage. We were also Canadian married years after our actual wedding, but it didn’t change our status stateside. We, too, enjoyed that delicious taste of federal recognition and national kindness, and it made us even hungrier for a US marriage. While we know that between the two of us, we could never be more married, there is that wholeness you describe that comes from equality in wedlock.

    And also, gorgeous pictures that put a big smile on my face. Thank you.

  3. So wonderful. I loved reading all of your thoughts about it. The shadow…yes, that’s what it is.

  4. T and I have been married three times–illegally in our back yard in 2001, temporarily legally in San Francisco during Winter of Love 2004, and then really legally in 2008, during California’s brief moment of marriage equality.

    Being at San Francisco City Hall during that month in 2004 when Mayor Gavin Newsom allowed the city clerk to issue marriage licenses–it was like being in an alternate universe. The support from the city employees, spectators, media and other spouses-to-be was overwhelming. The amazed looks on the faces of the people getting married, the joyful tears, the giddiness, the stories people told each other about where they’d come from and how they’d gotten there–it was like nothing else I’ve experienced. A few months after that window of opportunity closed, I went to a screening of a documentary about the Winter of Love. Re-experiencing that alternate universe on the big screen brought me to tears. I just kept thinking, “I want to go back there.”

    I hope we’re going back there. Soon. For those people who want the ceritficate, the legal rights, and the experience, I want to go back there.

  5. My wife and I were married in secret during the brief window of legality in California in 2008. We didn’t tell anyone because we wanted to have a big to do with family and friends and wedding gowns. We did that in 2009, and announced during the ceremony that we were legally married. It was amazing how official that felt–and how everyone cried when we told them. (I had a friend pregnant with twins at the time who was bawling so hard she was gasping for air.) There’s just something about that darn piece of paper. It’s special.

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